What the Final Four Coaches can teach our Corporate CEO’s

BballMike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, John Calipari, and Bo Ryan – magical names, remarkable coaches. Each has consistently built winners in college basketball. Congratulations to each for driving their teams to the Final Four. And the biggest kudo to Coach K on his Fifth National Championship!

Why are these coaches so consistently good and what can CEO’s learn from them? It is my deeply held belief that what has made each of those coaches world class is the same thing that can make any CEO wildly successful.  It starts and ends with Talent.

Every CEO should always be their company’s CTO. No I don’t mean – “Chief Technology officer” – I mean “Chief Talent Officer.”

I don’t care if you are Eric Schmidt at Google or Steve Jobs at Apple, 80% of your success as an Executive relates to People not Product. In fact, Jobs once stated:

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”

Jim Collins, noted business author, studied nearly 1,500 companies and found 8 of them that had transformed themselves from Good to Great. As he analyzed their formulas for success, Collins wrote:

“Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction.”

My brother in law- Tim Powers – knows something about coaching. He was a head swim coach for 38 years in NCAA Division I. As we were discussing this the other day, he remarked that “recruiting the right athlete was his #1 priority.”

Over the years, as a CEO myself, I have learned that it’s not product or technology innovation that wins the day. Rather it is the remarkable people that are driving the corporate enterprise. To paraphrase Collins, – It’s not the What but the Who.  As I wrote in my book last year, “UP Your Game, 6 Timeless Principles for Networking Your Way to the Top:

“Every CEO has his or her strengths.  Some are brilliant with technology; others are great at execution; still others have the gift of vision.  But they all know one thing: the key to working smart is to build an amazing team. You can have an “A” product, but if it is surrounded by only a “C” management team, the enterprise is doomed to failure. On the other hand, give a “C” product to an “A” management team, and even the least interesting products have a chance. Build a killer team, and you will see unprecedented results.”

Steve Kerr, coach of the red-hot Golden State Warriors, just set an all time NBA record – most wins ever for a rookie coach. But Kerr also has what some are saying is the best backcourt in the history of basketball- Klay Thompson and Stephan Curry.

Phil Jackson on the other hand, revered as one of the greatest head coaches of all time, is watching his New York Knicks fall apart. Yet- he previously won 11 Championship Rings with the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers. What is it that Jackson had with the Bulls and Lakers but doesn’t have with the Knicks?  TALENT! Jackson has not suddenly become a horrible coach despite the fact that the NY Knicks have only won 15 games in 77 this year. One must look to the fact that he is not coaching such talented basketball players as Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant.

The truth is this – I would have been a dismal failure as a Tech Exec if I did not have geniuses like Drew Major at Novell, David Flynn at Fusion-io and Mark Newman at HireVue. And, as HireVue is at the very epicenter of the recruiting universe, I am able to see everyday the power of those CEO’s that actively recruit great talent.

Yes- It is amazing to see the achievements of the coaches for Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Michigan State. But remember this: Mike would not necessarily be there without Jahlil Okafor; Bo would not be there without Frank the Tank Kaminsky; Tom needed Travis Trice and Calipari was helped with mega-talent like Willie Cauley-Stein, the Harrison brothers and freshmen beast Karl-Anthony Towns.

And it should be noted that likes attract like – When Jahlil Okafor came to Duke, it was a package deal with his friend Tyus Jones.

It’s all about talent. I must admit there is an element of what you do with that talent that is of critical importance. It is the ability to coax greatness from its source. But first you must find talent that is teachable. And finding that talent takes hard work, deep searching, and salesmanship.

So I am not saying that all Ryan, Izzo, Calipari, and Krzyzewski had to do was to roll the basketball out onto the floor and they would magically win. No – far from it. But they first had to recruit this great talent before success would come.

CEO’s should remember this statement:

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”
-Lawrence Bossidy
– David Bradford

Posted in Posted in Lessons Learned, Life Balance, Sports, Up Principles, What I Learned From  |  10 Comments

10 thoughts on “What the Final Four Coaches can teach our Corporate CEO’s”

    1. Thanks for your kind note, Dave. You have done a terrific job with Aviacode of attracting and retaining great talent.

  1. Dave, as always, valuable reminder of which priorities to get sequenced right. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. David, you explained your methodology very well. Now I see it takes getting the right talent, and then doing the right thing with the talent. Thanks for the interesting post.

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